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Perspective: by Jerry Pyle
"Welcoming" the Rookies
It was a pretty good week for Cobber sports. Rookies apparently were being welcomed onto the fall sports teams with a minimum of "hazing." That's good news.
"Hazing" is a euphemism for treating newcomers like dirt. And hazing has deep roots in our society. Army boot camp and fraternity initiation rites still hold an almost-lofty place in our cultural folklore. And the culture of athletics has not been immune from engaging in comparable rites.
Sometimes hazing comes in relatively mundane, almost cute, forms, like the salty tirades of a boot camp sergeant, the "pledge" having to clean the fraternity toilets with a toothbrush, or the rookie ball player having to carry the luggage of the veteran players on road trips.
But often these rituals go way beyond cute and into the realm of the savage and the deadly. Fifty-mile hikes in the desert, drinking orgies that end in death, and physical abuse of rookie athletes come to mind as examples.
Hazing rituals have traditionally been winked at by our society as times when established norms of respect for other human beings can be suspended. Newcomers to an organization, it is said, need to have their loyalty to the organization forged in a cauldron of brutality and degradation. The experience is thought to help "bond" the newcomer with not only his (or her) fellow victims but, curiously, even the torturers themselves. And, not incidentally, a pecking order of authority based solely on seniority, and wholly unrelated to merit, gets firmly ingrained in the newcomer's mind.
In recent years, Concordia, like nearly all colleges, has moved to curb the excesses of these hazing rituals and has affirmatively sought to challenge the whole set of premises on which hazing rests.
The proposition has been advanced (backed up by threats of disciplinary and legal action) that respect for the dignity of fellow students is not a value which is subject to occasional suspension.
The anti-hazing idea and it's humane premises are not going catch on overnight. The recent rejuvenation of overt racism on American campuses reminds us (as if we needed reminding) that a lot of sick ideas are hard to kill.
Never having joined a campus society or fraternity, I don't have my own personal horror story about that arena of hazing. But two incidents in my athletic experience, one one long ago and one more recently, have allowed me a modicum of insight into what is at issue here.
Late in the basketball season of 1963-64, as a wide-eyed eighth-grader in Casselton, ND, I was asked by the varsity coach to move up to his team. With my inflated ego and youthful naivete firmly in place, I actually expected a warm welcome from the senior-dominated varsity.
A lot of the players on that team had been virtual idols of mine and now I would get to play ball with them.
After the first practice, in which I thought I held my own, I was expecting them to say something like, "Nice job rookie, I think you are going to help us." Instead, they beat me to a pulp, stuffed my gangly body into a small locker and said "Welcome to the varsity, kid."
They were hysterical with laughter and I was in a blur of tears. I don't remember any bonding taking place.
Hazing just struck me as pretty sick from then on.
My most recent experience with the hazing issue was far more positive. Last season's Lady Cobber basketball team had a group of senior captains who carried a lingering distaste for the isolation they had experienced as freshmen. They held a conviction that ritual verbal putdowns of rookies by the veterans was simply wrong. They also thought it created a chasm between team members that was costly in a sport so dependent on cooperative action.
So, as captains, they welcomed the rookies with unprecedented grace, as equals deserving of help and respect. The results were apparent throughout the year.
Deep friendships were formed across "class" lines. The rookies contributed to the team's success earlier than we as coaches had ever experienced. It was a remarkable group of young women to watch grow together. And they went 24-3 in the won-lost column.
Lady Cobber rookie basketball players are probably still going to be asked to sing their high school song at players-only pregame meetings. I suspect that this will continue to fall into a permissible "cute" category of hazing.
On the other hand, I haven't heard this year's rookies sing yet. Veterans having to listen to these rookies singing their high school fight songs may turn out to be a rare case of "reverse hazing."
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